Indonesia’s Muslim Counter Radicalization Movements

Indonesia’s Muslim Counter Radicalization Movements
(Paul Marshall, September 11, 2019)

Transcript available below

About the speaker

Paul Marshall is Wilson Distinguished Professor of Religious Freedom at Baylor University and a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Leimena Institute, Jakarta, Indonesia, and Visiting Professor at the Graduate School of Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN) in Jakarta.

Mr. Marshall is the author and editor of more than twenty books on religion and politics, especially religious freedom, including Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians (2013, with Lela Gilbert and Nina Shea), Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes Are Choking Freedom Worldwide (2011, with Nina Shea), Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion (2009), Religious Freedom in the World (2007), Radical Islam’s Rules: The Worldwide Spread of Extreme Sharia Law (2005), The Rise of Hindu Extremism (2003), Islam at the Crossroads (2002), God and the Constitution (2002), The Talibanization of Nigeria (2002), Massacre at the Millennium (2001), Religious Freedom in the World (2000), Egypt’s Endangered Christians (1999), Just Politics (1998), Heaven Is Not My Home (1998), A Kind of Life Imposed on Man (1996), and the best-selling, award-winning survey of religious persecution worldwide Their Blood Cries Out (1997).

He is the author of several hundred articles, and his writings have been translated into Russian, German, French, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Norwegian, Danish, Albanian, Japanese, Malay, Korean, Arabic, Farsi, and Chinese. He is in frequent demand for lectures and media appearances, including interviews on ABC Evening News; CNN; PBS; Fox; the British, Australian, Canadian, South African, and Japanese Broadcasting Corporations; and Al Jazeera. His work has been published in, or is the subject of, articles in the New York Times, Wall St. Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Washington Times, Boston Globe, Dallas Morning News, Christian Science Monitor, First Things, New Republic, Weekly Standard, Reader’s Digest, and many other newspapers and magazines.

Mr. Marshall is also a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Religion at Baylor University. He was also a part of the Christianity and Freedom Project headed by the Berkley Center’s Religious Freedom Project.


Robert R. Reilly:


Now, our speaker tonight as you know is Paul Marshall, and he is the Wilson Distinguished Professor of Religious Freedom at Baylor University, and a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, whom I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for many years, and I thank him deeply for coming here tonight.

Apropos of his subject this evening are his affiliations in Indonesia in Jakarta where he’s a Senior Fellow in the Leimena Institute and a Visiting Professor at the Graduate School of Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN) in Jakarta. Paul has written and edited more than twenty books. I invite your attention to them. They’re a national – no, an international treasure.

I’ll just mention Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians, the book with Nina Shea, Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes Are Choking Freedom Worldwide, which I had the pleasure of reviewing, Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion, etc. He just happened to have here one of the books he edited, Radical Islam’s Rules: The Worldwide Spread of Extreme Sharia Law. Tonight, Paul will be addressing us on the subject of “Indonesia’s Muslim Counter Radicalization Movements.” Welcome.

Paul Marshall:


Thank you very much, Bob, and thank you very much for having me here. It’s a great pleasure, and for me also a great pleasure to say some things about Indonesia. I’ll clarify some of the ideological and theological developments within Indonesian Islam, but I will intersperse those with some more personal stories, which I think will bring home at least some of the flavor of the dominant forms of Indonesian Islam.

Missing the Violence

You may remember in a host of recent attacks on religious institutions, 300 people were killed in bombings of hotels and churches in Sri Lanka earlier this year, and in Christchurch in New Zealand, a man armed with a rifle went to more than one mosque, shooting up Muslims, and in the Western media, dealing with Western pundits was a question of you know how and why does such a terrible thing occur? And obviously, there is for the man who did it a sort of rightwing, anti-Muslim and indeed, more generally anti-foreigner ideology similar to the man who remember did the killings in Norway, Anders Breivik, very similar outlook.

There was a lot of self-criticism in the West because of those attacks, but one counter needs to be made that for every such attack, there are ten or twenty attacks going if I can put it this way in the other way. Indeed, if you take Nigeria alone, there would be ten or twenty such attacks going on very regularly, and not many people pointed this out.

Problems with Orthodoxy

But earlier this year on March 24 about two weeks after those killings in New Zealand, there was a remarkable article in the London newspaper The Daily Telegraph. It was titled, “How can we prevent another atrocity like the one in Christchurch?” It stressed many things, but it also stressed the urgent need to address – and I quote – the “problematic elements of Islamic orthodoxy… [including] jihadist doctrine, goals and strategy [that] can be traced to specific tenets of orthodox, authoritative Islam and its historic practice.”

Note the focus here is not on interpretations of Islam or misinterpretations of Islam or politicizations of Islam. It is very specifically on the “problematic elements of Islamic orthodoxy.” The term is there. “Jihadist doctrine,” “Al Qaeda,” “ISIS,” but all these strategies “can be traced to specific tenets of orthodox, authoritative Islam.” Quite a remarkable, dramatic article to have in a newspaper.

It goes on: “amongst the problematic elements of Islamic orthodoxy include ‘those portions of Shariah,” Islamic law. Well, Shariah is much more than Islamic law, Islamic normativity, law, morals, practice “that promote Islamic supremacy, encourage enmity towards non-Muslims and require the establishment of a caliphate. It is these elements – still taught by most Sunni and Shiite institutions – that constitute a summons to perpetual conflict.'”

Nahdlatul Ulama

At first glance this might seem to be an Islamophobic criticism, but who wrote the article? Yahya Cholil Staquf. ‘Kyai Haji’ means he has been on the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. ‘Kyai’ is the Indonesian term for a senior and revered teacher, so Kyai Haji is an honorific. Yahya Cholil Staquf is from one of Indonesia’s most distinguished families. He is the Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Nahdlatul Ulama, which is the world’s largest Muslim organization. Depending on how you count it, it has between 50 an 90 million members. That means it has more members than any Arab country has people.

He is head of its youth wing, Ansor or youth. They call it youth wing, it is young adult. The cut-off is age forty-five. I like their definition of youth. Ansor alone has some five million members. It also has a militia, Banser. He is among the Muslim world’s most incisive reformers.

So note this, the man who said the thing I just quoted is the general secretary of the world’s largest Muslim organization. Obviously, I do not know what things you know and do not know, but I would say typically in Washington most people, even those who work on things related to Islam have never heard of this. It is great for me because I can quote all these things and when people jump down my throat I just say I am just quoting the general secretary of the world’s largest Muslim organization. This is what he said. Who am I to argue? So again, he is not a fringe figure.

The Islamic World Today

To emphasize this point: again, when we think of Islam – I do not want to impute things for you, but generically there is a tendency to think of Islam as Arab, but only one in five Muslims is an Arabic speaker and again, there is a very high proportion of Arabic speakers who are not Muslims. And [there is a general tendency] to think of Islam as largely Middle Eastern. You have a large population in Egypt, the largest one in the Arab world, but then Turkey is fairly large.

After we go from there, where have we got? Nigeria, we have Pakistan, we have India, we have Bangladesh, and we have Indonesia. These four are the largest Muslim population countries. More Muslims live from the Pakistani border east than live west of it. So this is where we are talking about not necessarily the most influential [leaders], but in terms of people this is where the world’s Muslims are. So one of the general points I want to make is we do need to pay attention to Islam outside of the greater Middle East. For example, Indonesia, but in other places too. India would be an example. Almost no Indian Muslims – and they are under a lot of pressure with what is going on in Kashmir – have joined groups such as Al Qaeda.

Pay Attention to Muslims Outside of the Middle East

So one of the general points I want to make is we need to pay attention to Islam outside the greater Middle East, for example, Indonesia, but in other places too. India would be an example. Almost no Indian Muslims – and they are under a lot of pressure with what is going on in Kashmir – have joined groups such as Al Qaeda or ISIS. They are very similar to the Indonesians, and one of the things we are doing at Hudson is bringing Indian and Indonesian Muslim scholars together.

Abdurrahman Wahid

Just to take one example: the man on the left – who is basically blind at this point – is the former President of Indonesia, which is the world’s largest in population Muslim country with a population of about 270 million, and he was the head of Nahlatul Ulama, which is the world’s largest Muslim organization. I had met him a couple of times, beginning in 1989, and this was later on after he had ceased to be president in about 2004.

I managed to have dinner with him, which was a fun time. It was very hard to get him serious because he had this enormous fondness for George Bush jokes, which he wanted to get through. We actually managed to get to other things, but he was a remarkable man in many ways. Now I will just give one illustration and go on.


This is a book my colleague at Hudson, Nina Shea, and I wrote called Silenced: How Apostasy & Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedom Worldwide. We do a survey. We also comment on the West and the United Nations system, but largely on Muslim majority countries. We do surveys of some 36 of them and not only the legal situation – this could be a separate presentation – if you are accused of blasphemy in many places, that is dangerous as far as the courts and the law and the state is involved, but much more dangerous is terrorists and the mob.

Pakistan, for example, has the strictest blasphemy laws in the world. Nobody has been executed in the modern age for blasphemy in Pakistan, but there are a lot of bodies. People are accused. A mob gets you, burns you alive or you are killed by the police or the police just put you into a cell with a dozen people who say he is a blasphemer, and you are gone. That tends to be the most dangerous element, so we survey these elements.

Also, most of the book deals with Muslims, particularly Muslim reformers, who are accused of this. Now we want this book to be read everywhere, but also in the Muslim world. How do we do this? It is a dangerous book. We have an Arabic translation, but finding an Arabic publisher… There is no one with an address in the Arab world who is going to touch it, but you can find it on the web, okay? We just posted it out there for anybody.

Even in Indonesia – we have a long story – we have an Indonesian translation and the publisher pulled out at the last minute. I talked to an Indonesian friend about this and he said we might be able to get an introduction from this man, which, indeed, he wrote and I commend this book to you. The introduction is called, “God Needs No Defense.” That tells the argument. You just say I do not like blasphemy, I hate blasphemy, I am not going to talk to them. But God is perfectly capable of looking after them, the State should stay out of it, and that was written by Abdurrahman Wahid.

Another anecdote to go with this: this book, Silenced, came out in 2011 and I was in Indonesia for many reasons. One of them was to talk about this book, and some friends at the Leimena Institute where I am a Fellow – this is a Christian think tank in Jakarta, Indonesia – said we want a roundtable discussion with about a dozen senior Christian and Muslim leaders on this book Silenced.

I said okay, I got there, and I said how do you want to go? He says you do not need to talk too much, ten minutes, this is a round table and there are twelve of us that want to talk about it, and we have a respondent to you. I said who is the respondent? It is Nasser ud-Din Ummah. And I said who is Nasser ud-Din Ummah? Well, he is the Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs. Actually, not too long after he became the Acting Minister of Religious Affairs. So I am dealing with the senior civil servant in the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

Silenced in Indonesia

Pak Ummah – Pak means Mr. in Indonesian, so Pak Ummah would be Mr. Ummah – he has a copy of the book. Where he got it, I do not know, it had just come out. I thought the only copies in Indonesia were the ones I brought in my luggage. And he had read it. That surprised me. He had gone through it and he discussed it, and he invited me to go to the Ministry the following week and run training sessions with the staff of the Ministry on this issue. And he also said that if we had an Indonesian translation, he would write a foreword to it, which he did, except it was the publisher who backed out in the end, got scared for local reasons.

So here I am firstly, with a foreword written by a former President of the country and a head of the largest Muslim organization, being discussed by the Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs, who would write a foreword to the other one. This is when you realize you are in a different world here.

See the rest of his talk…